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How can seating plans best serve pupils’ needs?

08 Jan 2022

How can seating plans best serve pupils’ needs?

By Mark Richards, 


With the end of a full academic term fast approaching, now could the perfect time to consider changing your classroom seating plan. Now you know all your pupils really well, it’s an opportune moment to rejig your seating plan to better meet their needs.

New year, new seating plan

Getting your seating plan right is actually one of the biggest challenges you face as a teacher. Of course, in some schools the problem is taken out of your hands because of a particular whole-school policy that is in place. However, if you do have freedom to arrange your classroom as you fit, and organise where pupils sit, there are difficult decisions to make.

Things are much easier for the primary school teacher, typically in one classroom with the same class all day and for most of the week. For a secondary teacher, the logistics can be a lot more problematic.

Firstly, not all – indeed, not many – teachers teach in the same room for all the lessons on their timetable. Not only that, even if you are fortunate enough to teach in the same classroom most or all of the time, will the seating arrangements you choose for your large Year 7 class with several SEND pupils also be ideal for your Year 11 high ability class? 

The chances are, probably not.

So, the business of seating plans is unlikely to ever result in a perfect utopia. It is likely that compromise becomes a large part of your thinking. Still, taking time to get the seating plan right is time well spent.

Seating arrangements

The big challenge is to decide which classroom layout is best for you. Naturally, there are pros and cons to all layouts.

The traditional set-up of rows really needs no introduction or explanation. Pupils sit facing the teacher with their backs to one another. On the plus side, rows work well if you have little expectation of group work. With all pupils facing the same way, it is easy for them to see the teacher and the whiteboard. On the negative side, rows are next to useless for group work and unless you have a small class, it can be a challenge to keep everybody on task. 

Paired seating is ideal for discussion work, and as most classrooms tend to be on the small side, this is often a more realistic and practical set-up. However, it can be tricky keeping check on off-task behaviour.

Semi-circles, horseshoe or double horseshoe layouts can be excellent for discussion work. However, careful positioning of pupils is necessary to keep everyone on task. Table groups are obviously superb for group work and cooperative learning. However, with difficult classes they can be an absolute minefield in terms of classroom management.

Align the layout to the activities you use the most

Ultimately, you should align your classroom seating arrangements to the activities and teaching approaches you use the most often. Another vital thing to consider is the flow around the room.
No matter how perfect you think the layout of your classroom might be, if it doesn’t allow or adequate and comfortable flow around the room – for pupils and (most importantly) for you – it simply won’t work.




1. The Ten Most Important Classroom Rules

2. How to Keep The Classroom Healthy This Winter

3. Importance of Health and Nutrition in the Classroom

4. How to Handle Classroom Conflicts?

5. How to Be an Outstanding Teacher without Classroom Management Skills?


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